RANKINGS seem to be an inevitable aspect of today’s higher education scene in most parts of the world. Love or hate them, they cannot be ignored as rankings provide a useful basis for comparison of institutions and an insight into their strengths and weaknesses.
There are many types of rankings available from the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings to the US News & World Report, the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU) by the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy (formerly known as the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities) and the QS World University Rankings.
Joining this list is the new kid on the block — the THE’s Asia University Rankings which compiles the top 100 Asian institutions in a list released last Thursday. Times Higher Education rankings editor Phil Baty says Asia is the most exciting and dynamic continent right now in higher education terms.
“Many of its nations recognise the central role that world-class universities play in driving the new knowledge economy and are investing heavily in university teaching and research.
“The rise of Asian institutions has been clearly documented in the overall THE World University Rankings, which are a global benchmark of university performance,” he says when asked why a new list has been created.
But, he adds, that the overall World University Rankings top 400 list remains dominated by the United States and other Western nations, and only includes 57 Asian institutions. This Asia-only top 100 list, he says, provides deeper and richer insights into the performance of Asia’s world-class research institutions, ranked against their regional peers.
The question then arises as to whether this new list takes away the “prestige” of its World University Rankings as it seems to indicate that Asian institutions need a different rankings to thrive in.
Source: Times Higher Education Asia University Rankings
“No, the World University Rankings are designed to judge only world-class research-led universities — those that compete on a global stage for the best students and academic talent, and those who push the boundaries of knowledge through research published in the world’s leading international journals,” adds Baty.
These new Asia University Rankings are based on the same methodology as the world university rankings, judging institutions against the same globally recognised and established standards.
He says 13 performance indicators examine each university’s strengths against all its core missions namely industry income, teaching, citations, research and international outlook. The indicators are grouped into five areas which are teaching (worth 30% of the overall score), research (30%), citations (30%), industry income (2.5%) and international outlook (7.5%).
“What we are doing is providing more local context and information to help the Asian universities which aspire to join the very best institutions across the globe to better understand their performance, relative to the best in the world, and to allow student consumers to have more information on institutions that are close to making the world top 400, but have not quite made it,” he says.
Making its mark
Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) is the only Malaysian institution included in the top 100 of the THE’s Asia University Rankings.
It is in joint 87th place with the American University of Beirut in Lebanon. The University of Tokyo tops the list followed by the National University of Singapore and the University of Hong Kong. (see table for full list)
UKM vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Sharifah Hapsah Syed Hasan Shahabudin says the main objective of participating in the exercise is to benchmark itself with other research intensive universities.
“One cannot ignore rankings although we know that it doesn’t measure a university’s true worth,” she says.
Prof Sharifah Hapsah believes it is important for the university to know where it stands to enable it to become one of the best in the region, if not the world.
Congratulating academic staff, students and administrators for their performance, Prof Sharifah Hapsah says UKM will continue to work on its transformation programme.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin says it is good to have one Malaysian public university in the rankings.
“But I must emphasise that our Malaysian public universities and their academic staff work very hard and these are not always done with university rankings in mind,” he says when congratulating UKM on its achievement.
Baty adds that UKM was not the only Malaysian institution to take part although it was the only one to reach the top 100 list.
“The rankings are on a voluntary basis. Institutions are invited to participate in the rankings exercise by our data partners Thomson Reuters and if they do not, they are not included.
“I hope this new Asia ranking will encourage more Malaysian institutions to join the process as even for those who fall short of the world top 100 list, we can offer important, globally recognised performance benchmarks across a wide range of an institution’s missions and priorities,” he says.
It is important for Malaysia’s development to properly benchmark its progress, he says, adding that UKM is a perfect example of this.
On UKM, Baty says it has a relatively flat profile, with a solid but not outstanding performance across all the indicators.
“By this, I mean that none of its indicators outperform the others by any great distance and have fairly similar scores across them all.
“One area that stands out is its score for ‘international outlook’ which examines a university’s recruitment of international staff and students and its international research collaboration,” he says.
Although this particular indicator is given a relatively low weight, it is important, as those institutions which aspire to global standards need to have a clear global outlook, he says, adding that they need to attract top global talent to their institutions and seek out strong global partners for high-quality research collaborations.
Universiti Malaya (UM) vice-chancellor Prof Tan Sri Dr Ghauth Jasmon says the institution did not take part in THE’s Asia Rankings.
“We were approached but our policy as always is not to participate in THE rankings until after 2017. This is to build up our citation count as we feel it will be stronger by 2017.
“The citation count window in THE is 10 years whereas QS looks at five years,” he adds.
(Research paper citations refers to how much each institution is contributing to the global body of knowledge, how much each is producing new ideas and discoveries, through publishing research that is picked up and shared by other academics, all over the world.)
Prof Ghauth feels that the university may also lose out in terms of endowment and research income which comes under one of the THE indicators.
“The budgets and the culture of endowment is more established in Western countries,” he adds.
Baty explains that the THE’s rankings are the only global rankings that take into account a university’s resources.
“This is because we think that in the real world, money is highly relevant to a university’s world class status. It takes money to attract and retain leading scholars and to build appropriate facilities for top class teaching and research,” he adds.
But it is important to put this into the correct context as he explains that industry income is only worth 2.5% of an institution’s overall score in the rankings and is based on research income from industry or academic staff.
“Only three of the 13 indicators used to assess a university’s activities take into account its income. This is scaled for the size of the institution and is also put in the context of the nation the institution finds itself in (rich or poor) as every effort is made to make certain that everyone is competing on a level playing field,” he says.
There are 15 countries in the Asia top 100 list. The best-represented nations are Japan (22 universities), Taiwan (17), mainland China (15) and Republic of Korea (14).
For more information, visit http://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/world-university-rankings/.
KAREN CHAPMAN email@example.com The STAR Online Education Opinion Sunday 14 April 2013